Tuesday, June 03, 2003

I was not able to get into my eMail this morning.
The Sims are back in Murphy!

North Korea's School for Hackers
In North Korea's mountainous Hyungsan region, a military academy specializing in electronic warfare has been churning out 100 cybersoldiers every year for nearly two decades.

Graduates of the elite hacking program at Mirim College are skilled in everything from writing computer viruses to penetrating network defenses and programming weapon guidance systems.

Or so South Korea's government would have the world believe.

Since at least 1994, military and intelligence officials in Seoul have warned of the growing threat posed by the "infowar" academy to the north, which they say was founded in the 1980s and is also known as the Automated Warfare Institute.

Most recently, South Korea's Defense Security Command raised the specter of Mirim at a cybersecurity seminar in mid-May, where a South Korean general noted that North Korea is "reinforcing its cyberterror capabilities."

Yet Pentagon and State Department officials say they are unable to confirm South Korea's claims that Mirim or any other North Korean hacker academy even exists.

And some U.S. defense experts accuse South Korea of hyping the cyber threat posed by its northern neighbor, which they claim is incapable of seriously disrupting the U.S. military.

"The KPA (Korean People's Army) is still predominantly an analog and vacuum-tube force," said Alexandre Mansourov, a professor at the Pentagon's Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. "We tend to overestimate the level of information-technology expertise in the North Korean military, and South Korea is especially guilty of this."

Representatives of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, as well as its Institute for Defense Analyses and Information Security Agency, did not respond to requests for more information about Mirim College or North Korea's information warfare capability.

Outside North Korea little is known about secretive Pyongyang's current infowar prowess, according to John Pike, president of GlobalSecurity.org, which maintains an online guide to North Korea's military.

But Pike said the militaristic nation, which spends much of its gross national product on defense, undoubtedly is working to digitize its military.

"It's not the sort of thing that a spy satellite is going to pick up," said Pike. "But even if the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) can't feed its own people, it's quite capable of developing and using the full spectrum of modern weaponry, including cyber."

Indeed, the regime in North Korea would be grossly negligent if it failed to beef up its information warfare capability, according to Mansourov. Its adversary South Korea, one of the most wired nations in the world, makes no secret that preparing for infowar is a top military priority, he said.

In its 2000 annual report, South Korea's Ministry of National Defense said a 5 percent budget increase was allocated mainly for projects such as "the buildup of the core capability needed for coping with advanced scientific and information warfare."

The report also revealed that South Korea's military has 177 "computer training facilities" and had trained more than 200,000 "information technicians."

Meanwhile, in North Korea the lack of basic necessities, such as a reliable electrical grid, presents huge obstacles to creating an information-technology infrastructure, according to Peter Hayes, executive director of the Nautilus Institute, which published a recent study of North Korea's IT aspirations.

Trade sanctions -- not to mention North Korea's guiding philosophy of "juche," or self-reliance -- have further isolated the DPRK from the Internet and many technological advances, said Hayes.

As a result, North Korea has been assigned only two "class C" blocks of Internet addresses, none of which currently appear active, according to data from the American Registry for Internet Numbers and Asia Pacific Network Information Centre. The DPRK's limited connection to the Internet reportedly comes from satellite links provided by a company in South Korea, and by land lines from China.

Similarly, North Korea's designated top-level domain, .kp, never has been implemented. The nation has only a handful of websites -- the most sophisticated being an online gambling site -- none of which are hosted in North Korea. Servers in China and Japan host the sites.

While Net surfing is available only to a privileged few of the 22 million North Koreans, leader Kim Jong Il is said to be a big fan of information technology. The dictator surprised many when he asked Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for her e-mail address during a historic visit in 2000.

Yet, despite being mostly disconnected from the Internet, North Korea reportedly has developed a vast intranet linking government offices throughout the country.

The DPRK has software development expertise that is "competent, if not world class," according to Hayes. He notes that programmers in North Korea's Pyongyang Informatics Center have done contract work for local governments and businesses in Japan and South Korea to develop a wide variety of software.

In fact, some in the Department of Defense have recently considered North Korea a viable infowar threat. In a 1997 Pentagon war game called "Eligible Receiver," National Security Agency computer specialists posed as North Korean hackers and reportedly were able to disrupt command-and-control elements of the U.S. Pacific Command.

The following year, Pentagon adviser and Rand consultant John Arquilla concocted a fictional scenario, published in Wired magazine, of a global cyberwar engineered by -- whom else -- the North Koreans.

In March 2001, a task force of the Defense Science Board concluded (PDF) that the Department of Defense was unable to defend itself "from an information operations attack by a sophisticated nation state adversary."

Experts are split, however, on whether North Korea's hacker-soldiers currently pose a serious threat to the U.S. military.

Should war occur on the Korean peninsula, a cyberattack by North Korea could disrupt the ability of U.S. troops to provide support, according to Arquilla. Such an attack would not necessarily emanate from North Korea's limited network.

"There are many places around the world from which (North Korea) could conduct cyberwar, places that have all the connectivity needed, and more," said Arquilla.

Arquilla said highly automated U.S. military processes, such as the "air tasking order" of an air campaign, or time-phased deployment of troops and equipment, could be disrupted by a North Korean cyberattack.

"In such cases, the disruption of American combat operations and logistics could make a very substantial difference in the overall military campaign," said Arquilla.

Mansourov, however, said North Korea is unlikely to be focusing its scarce IT resources on the development of a crew of hacker-soldiers.

"The Chinese are very good at this and have the resources to do it. But I don't think the KPA spends its efforts there. They are more focused on development of missile guidance and C4i (command-and-control systems)," said Mansourov.

Hayes said he believes North Korean hackers would not be able to create serious harm to the U.S. military's mission-critical systems, which are decentralized and largely insulated from the Internet.

"I'm sure they can get into some systems at a low level and maybe divert some things," said Hayes. "But in the big picture, a few hackers are not going to stop the flow of American men and material in a major war in Korea."

On the other hand, North Korea's highly centralized IT systems are prone to "amplifying and propagating bad military decisions" and are an easy target for physical attacks by smart bombs and other means, according to Hayes.

As for South Korea's recent claim that Pyongyang is ready to create "cyberterror," a State Department representative said North Korea is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since 1987, when a Korean airliner was bombed in flight.

Spokesman Lou Fintor said, however, that the State Department nonetheless remains "disappointed" with North Korea's response to international efforts to combat terrorism.

While details of North Korea's infowar force are available only in fiction and propaganda, Arquilla is convinced that the country may have marshaled a world-class offensive infowar capability.

"I believe that the North Koreans, whatever their limitations, have a capacity to think deeply and innovatively about military affairs," he said. "And what I have observed over the years convinces me that they are devoting considerable attention to cyberwar."

Bush's credibility damaged by fruitless hunt for weapons in Iraq: experts
President George W. Bush's administration faces credibility problems after insisting for months that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent security threat, experts say.

Bush cited stockpiles of banned weapons as a justification for waging war on Iraq but since the toppling of President Saddam Hussein's regime, the US military has found no concrete proof of their existence.

"There is a very big disconnect between the intelligence as reflected by open statements by the administration before the invasion of Iraq and what they've found on the ground," Vincent Cannistrano, former director of counterterrorism at the CIA, told AFP.

US officials are now saying the weapons might have been destroyed, buried or transported elsewhere prior to the start of the war and are sending in a new 1,300-member team to step up the hunt this week.

On Thursday, Bush cited two specially equipped tractor-trailer rigs seized in Iraq as evidence of a biological warfare program, though intelligence analysts acknowledged they had no concrete evidence the trailers were used to make biological agents.

"That's a far cry from the report put out in October 2002 when the CIA estimated that there was several hundreds tons of biological and chemical agents stockpiles in the hands of Saddam Hussein," Cannistrano said.

"They haven't found anything like that at all and certainly nothing that has been weaponized.

"It is self-evident that their credibility is diminished, particularly in the international arena," he added.

"Two months after the war, finding just two rusty trailers -- its clear the Bush administration has a credibility problem," agreed John Pike, a defense analyst at GlobalSecurity.org.

"The only way to get out of it is to find WMD (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq," he said.

"Unless some middle-level Iraqi engineer shows up and take us to the warehouse, we're going to have to go back to the very beginning in terms of looking at the American assessment of Iraq's WMD capabilities and try to understand why there may have been some systematic errors."

For retired General Edward Atkeson, a former army intelligence officer who is now a consultant for the Institute of Land Warfare, talk of banned weapons was an "excuse" for the administration's true goal in Iraq -- regime change.

"The main thing they wanted to do was to change the regime. That became pretty clear," he said.

Senior US lawmakers from both major political parties said on Sunday a congressional investigation might be needed to determine whether US intelligence sources exaggerated information on the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify the war.

Senator John McCain told ABC television's "This Week" program he still believed weapons would be found, adding: "Obviously all of us are disappointed that we haven't found more so far."

But in a recent interview with The Washington Post, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, a vocal opponent of the Iraq war, said the apparent absence of such weapons raised serious concerns about misuse of power.

"Contrary to what Mr. Bush tried to convince this nation of, Saddam Hussein did not constitute an imminent danger to this nation," Byrd said.

"The Bush team's extensive hype of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a justification for a preemptive invasion has become more embarrassing. It has raised serious questions about prevarication and the reckless use of power," he added.

"Were our troops needlessly put at risk? Were countless Iraqi civilians killed and maimed when war was not really necessary? Was the American public deliberately misled? Was the world?"

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